‘Adam’s Eve’ by Michael Vincent Moore

Adams Eve

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Adam, in a horrid state, rouses himself up and searches about, no one to be seen. He stumbles up from the patch of leaves he is laying on. Adam wanders, nude, distraught, seeking. He catches a glimpse of Eve in the distance, stretched out in the shaded grass next to a pond, equally nude. He joins with her. As Adam approaches, Eve looks up at him, and observes his discomfited nature. Before she can formulate a word, he attempts to untangle his disjointed thoughts.

“Eve, I, you.”

Eve, incapable of grasping Adam’s swollen and despairing countenance, nor of embodying his inner turmoil, barely glances at him before returning to her peaceful rest.

Adam, desperate to impress upon Eve the horrific images he has just perceived, proceeds with much effort to render in words his tumultuous tale. “You could not believe what I have just beheld; a dreadful event is poised to burst after us. Such horror, such hopelessness, beyond apprehension.” He lets himself fall next to her, in abject wretchedness.

Eve turns back to him, astounded. “What? Horror, here?”

“No, it was not within this space that I saw it.”

Eve, lost in thought, ponders his words for a moment, then focuses back on Adam, curious. “But we have never been anywhere else.”

Adam fixes his gaze to the crystalline reflections of the star’s rays upon the pond as he endeavours to understand this event. “I was here, then I slumbered, then I was there, and then I was here again.”

Eve raises to her side and leans on Adam’s knee, as the mystery of his experience captures more of her faculties. “Adam, are you implying that he brought you to another place?”

“I am not certain where I was, but it was not here that I conjured these things, this I know.”

“What things?”

“The most horrible things: Agony, decay, pollution, craving, sordid creations. So many people living in fear, living in torment of the worst sort.”

Eve caresses Adam’s flowing hair, attempting to assuage his ill feelings. “I still do not understand. What horrible place do you speak of?”

“It was called Earth, and its history was conferred to my existence in an unending succession of ghastly images. Part of me was there. Part of me endured all of it with them, through them.” He pauses, sorely recollecting those sensations. “A whole world. Inhabitants born, living short suffered lives. Inhabitants who then died of disease, lost hope, regret, hunger. Even murder!”

Eve freezes, her hand still intertwined in Adam’s hair. Her eyes widen. “Murder?”

“Yes, murder, and so much worse still.”

Adam looks at Eve earnestly, trying to gauge her level of discernment, of how far he should delve into the reality of what he has seen without compromising her innocence, her amity.

“Things worse than murder? How could such a place even exist?”

She resumes caressing his hair. Adam further contemplates Eve’s well-being and chooses to discontinue the elaborations of his descriptions.

“I have perceived things that I ought not repeat to you. I have seen what it is that some of these people have done to one another.” He temporarily interrupts his discourse, the painful images coming back to him in the moment. “It is so hideous that it induces a magnitude of displeasure to my being. Billions of people, struggling, over and over again. Life and death. No respite, no end.”

“My dear Adam, even though I am familiar with all these words you speak of, I am at a loss to comprehend the consequence of them, or to sympathize in any way.” As Eve speaks to Adam, she gently slides her hand over his arm in  tender affection.

“Be grateful of that,” Adam replies. “For I have felt their anguish, and I would spare you of it at any expenditure.”

“Was it all so evil? Was there not any redeeming attributes to this place you have sojourned to?”

“Some, but all far eclipsed by the governing perversity to which the beauty could be measured in drops, but the suffering, in oceans.” Adam shakes his head in a dejected manner.

“How can he have brought you there, and why?”

He contemplates Eve’s query, and a faint impression springs forth to him. “It was for a purpose, and,” Adam, arrested in mid-account, his eyes fixed to the ground, becomes exceedingly faint. “Oh, I saw how this place came to be.”

“How it came to be?”

A flash of horror thunders through his mind, and a subsequent expression of great heartache ripples across his facial features, distorting them to an almost unrecognizable form. Eve recoils in fright.

“It, it was because of us. We were responsible.”

Of a sudden, Adam obediently bows his head and shamefully shadows his appearance nether the veil of his consentient palms.

On hearing of Adam’s self-recriminations, of them being at the origin of this harrowing other-worldly disturbance, Eve overcomes her momentary displeasure to Adam’s harsh judgment. She becomes defensive and asks: “How could we be responsible for such a place?”

Adam is despondent and Eve pulls at his hands. At his grief-stricken expression, she grows concerned. “Adam, speak to me!”

Adam takes a few moments to constitute himself, and hesitantly proceeds with the account. “It was that which you were attempting to prevail over me. Us. Our parts, joining together.”

Eve wrenches herself away from Adam in consternation. “How can that have anything to do with this place you called Earth, where you witnessed countless people suffering so dreadfully?”

“I do not know, but he admonished us not to do certain things. He said that there would be grave repercussions.”

Eve cannot come to terms with this inference, this connection that Adam is implying, particularly not through any fault or influence of her own. “But how can there be such grave repercussions for anything we do here? This place is so idyllic?”

“Again, I do not know. But his essence left me somehow within that moment. I experienced darkness, loss of harmony, and we became them,  all of it was created from us.” Adam trembles as he unsuccessfully attempts to dislodge those impressions from his knowing. “Please do not try to persuade me again, do not even refer to it any longer!”

Having difficulty facing Eve and her insistence in the matter despite an admonition of this horrifying outcome, Adam turns aside in dismay.

Eve still contests Adam’s resolve. “But, Adam, I yearn for it in a way I cannot explain.”

Delicately resting her head on his shoulder, Eve proffers an embrace.

“Eve, I beg you. After what I have been through, I would as soon tear it off and burn it to ashes before I would even attempt such a thing with it, the consequences are far too important, just because of this, union, you yearn for.”

“Adam, do not be so hurried to settle your judgment. Please, consider my feelings further.” Through the sensations they are communing by their corporeal link, Eve feels Adam draw back. She reasserts her longing by keeping to him in a more coercive clench.

“No Eve, my word is final. There is nothing additional that you can do or say to convince me otherwise. I am going to Father now, to impart to him what I have witnessed. I will make him aware that he can rest assured, never will I be betrayed to go against him.”

Forcefully parting with Eve, Adam stands. “He will be disappointed of hearing about this deception that we have considered, our contemplation of going against his word. But he is forgiving and will be reassured of my renewed convictions and obeisance.”

Adam distances himself, as Eve, disheartened, sulks into the ground.

 


MICHAEL VINCENT MOORE is a social science writer and lifelong meditator, with extensive studies on human behaviour and dream research with over 30,000 reviewed dreams, and an active dream journal spanning over two decades. Fascinated by the potential of dreams and consciousness and their connection with our ultimate reality, he has devoted much of his time attempting to unravel the mysteries they contain through himself and others. Much of his insights and findings are translated into both his fiction and non-fiction writing. He is also the founder of TheOneHumanProject.com, a global initiative with a mission to scientifically prove that we are all connected.

Copyright © 2019 by Michael Vincent Moore. All rights reserved.

‘Before I Confess’ by Ian Kent

before i confess

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

I confess it again and again. What does it look like to always come back to this same pew, this same church, staring ahead to the altar, but glancing at the confessional door, week after week, confessing the same thing, never changing? Is cyclical forgiveness still forgiveness? The woman beside me just smiled at me. Did I just sin again? At least I think she smiled at me. Her hair is tied up in a bunch at the back of her head, and her hands are resting on her knees. I know her. I’ve met her before—at that singing thing. God, I’m a shitty singer. Did I just sin again? For saying God like that? I went to the singing thing because I don’t know many Catholics, and I want to meet more of them. They were all there after Monday Mass, even the priest, which I wouldn’t have even gone to if I hadn’t had the need to confess right after paying that woman for, God, I don’t want to say it, even think it—it is too difficult to admit even to myself. It was last week, and it was sunny. Sitting on the beach felt good until I got tired. Now, I’m not tired. I’m nervous. I’m not staring at the altar anymore. I’m pretending to stare at the confessional door, but really, I’m staring at her.  I wish she’d let her hair down so that I could touch it. Did I just think that? Do I actually want to touch someone’s hair? Is that my fetish? Should I confess that? God, what does it matter? After what I’ve done, losing all that money in that place simply because she said so, that longer would be better, she’d do everything, but it wasn’t longer, it wasn’t better, it wasn’t everything. We couldn’t even finish because cops surrounded that barren house because someone was abusing some dog. With crack? Was I going to be arrested? Were my desires finally to be chained? I had to leave. I had to get to work. When I went outside that cop said make better life choices and I lied to him saying I just got them McDonalds and he wanted to know about the dog, and I didn’t know and I just left. God, I wanted to kiss her. I even paid her way more just for that, but she wouldn’t let me. She wouldn’t let me. I just want someone who will transact a kiss. Will I ever stop desiring that? Should I confess that never-ending desire? If the sin is every inch of you, do you confess your very being? The sin of inches. I can be funny sometimes. Actually, I can be funny a lot. Even cruel. Too cruel. That’s why I said what I said on the beach; I wanted to be funny. To show how funny I can be. But I ended up being cruel. Their reactions were probably the funniest thing about what happened. No one laughed, except for me and that other guy. Some of them gasped and some of them looked sad and that priest just went on and on about clichés and how they are important. Grounding truths. Cornerstones. She’s looking at me with those eyes, blue like the sky even though it’s raining today, and she laughs. Did she just laugh? It sounded like laughter, and I laugh… because that man from the beach who told that horrendous joke is right beside me staring past my eyes to the confessional door. I remove my hands from my knees and lightly brush my hair bun that I so delicately tied. I stare at the door too. That door is mesmerizing. It’s so polished that it shines. Or glints. There is a thin window at the top of it that tapers into a cone. Neither the Priest nor the confessor are in its view. It’s a soft laugh, so I’m not sure he hears it. I confess that my cheeks are red. They’re whispering. Should I confess that? It’s eavesdropping. That’s a venial sin. The confessional isn’t traditional. You sit right beside the Priest and you look him straight in the eye. Even as a Catholic woman, I’ve never been afraid to look them in the eye. I’ll just tell him the confessional needs better sound proofing. Father Samuel is in today, I think. We met when I hosted that pro-life workshop for the Catholic kids at the high school. His voice was so soft. It charmed me. He wanted me to do more talks. Perhaps even to the adult parishioners. Yes, maybe. Maybe I can do that. Am I nice? My friends say I am. They also say I’m driven. Ambitious. Can kindness and ambition go together? Or do they clash? Should I confess that? Must I always confess it? How many times? Seventy times seven? That sounds tiresome, so I lie to him, my boyfriend, my betrothed, instead. Is the secret a sin? I lie. I don’t love. I don’t. Am I the only one who sins? Have I been staring at that man beside me the whole time? He requested we sing Hallelujah at the beach, and we sang it. I think he liked that. Then that young woman said that cliché “Jesus loves us this much,” and she stretched out her arms as if she was on the cross, “and died.” And then that man who is now beside me on this pew made that joke. God, she didn’t have to say it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, or if it’s only true on some level. I gripped the sand and groaned when she said it. I shouldn’t have done that. It probably encouraged him to say the joke. On the beach his hair seemed pristine, untouchable. Now among the beauty of the church, the iconography in the window of Jesus crumpled under the cross, his hair is so messy. I bet his house is as messy as his hair. Clothing on the floor. Dirty dishes in the sink. Dust everywhere. A house needs to be kept in order. I have to be comfortable within my living space. He’s cute and his eyes change colour. That’s fascinating, isn’t it? He’s looking at me too. I blink. I’m so tired, and I rub my forehead… like I’m thinking, but I’m not really thinking. I’m a priest and I’m just trying to listen. There’s two others waiting outside in the pews. I’m hidden from them and exposed to this man who confesses to me. I’ve heard this confession before and respond with worthless platitudes and maybe the parishioner feels better, maybe he feels forgiven. Maybe not. I should be hidden from him. It is easier to accept forgiveness from a mysterious voice. Should I renounce my priesthood? Should I confess that? How innocent is that thought? Is that the first time I’ve thought that? I’ve certainly felt it for a long time, but duty breeds you past the feeling. You hope that it’s just a cyclical occurrence of emotion, that it will go away. That you are happy, that you enjoy your work, that you find it fulfilling. Still, how innocent am I? Did someone just scream? I ignore the confessor and open the door. He’s shocked and stumbles over his words. I don’t care. Someone screamed. It’s…what’s her name? She has her hands on her lips. Anne? Anna? No, it’s not that short. But someone called her Anne, I swear. It’s something longer. Anastasia. No, that can’t be it. I’m close though. Oh, and that guy. The jokester. “Jesus only loves you this much?” he scorned after that woman said that wonderful cliché (yes wonderful!) while stretching out his arms maliciously, “That’s not that long. It’s not that far. Only that much love? He only loves you that much?” I understand it’s a tiresome cliché and everyone says it, but did he have to make a joke about the length of God’s stretched out arms? Clichés can be grounding truths that hold us up like a cornerstone. And yet, we still reject it. The image works on so many different levels, and not only plays with length as a mathematical concept, but plays with it metaphysically as well. Length going beyond itself: mathematically metaphysical. So, really, it’s not a cliché. Annalise! There we go. That’s her. She listens. She really listens. Maybe I should tell her. I’ve got to tell someone. I’m not sure I can tell another priest. I’ve told one already. He’s back in the confessional, was just confessing to me, everyone confessing to each other—who forgives? It won’t matter. Even if he hears it and jokes about it, it won’t matter.  Men are usually a bunch of contradictory ideals, and I think he knows that, so he’ll understand. After all, I’m the one who will forgive him. He has no reason not to forgive me. Do I still have that power? If I want to leave, have I already left? Has God already left me? I reach out my hand to Annalise but that malicious jokester beside her on the pew reaches for her hair as if to touch the tips that curl over her forehead. But, he does not touch. His fingers suspend in unbelief. “Oh lord I believe! Help my unbelief.” She grabs his fingers and propels them into the braided bun at the backside of her head. It’s a swirling temple. His fingers scrunch against it and he yelps. Their lips mangle into each other—I wouldn’t call it a kiss, but I’m not sure what I would call it. Should I leave the cloth? It’s a sucking and a crinkling. A nervous chewing. Their lips smother over their teeth then smash into their cheeks and slobber onto their chins. She pets his eyes. It’s grotesque. She screams again. He slides off the pew onto the floor. She makes sure her hair hasn’t fallen loose. Then, she rests her hands on her knees. I cross myself. “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Holy Ghost? Ghost? Who said that? I turn—

 


IAN KENT wrote, produced and directed the play “Abattoir Morning” for or; theatre (ortheatre.com). In India, Ian taught Shakespeare to Tibetan artists in exile and edited and contributed to Contact magazine. His poems have been published in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, The Prairie Journal, Scrivener Creative Review, Rhubarb and Contemporary Verse 2. His fiction has appeared in The Prairie Journal. His non-fiction has appeared in Rhubarb.

Copyright © 2018 by Ian Kent. All rights reserved.

‘Kinderchor’ by Ilona Martonfi

kinderchor

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Begin to deliver a verdict a long time coming: “Guilty. Guilty.”

On the first day of fourth grade, Teacher gives me a pet name: “Schwarze, write on the blackboard.” 

My hands get dirty with chalk. Teacher touches my leg above the white ribbed knee sock.

The town Neutraubling G’Schichtn–Stories. I, Ilonka, as a pigtailed nine-year-old war refugee from Budapest, in 1951, was abused by Herr Anton Mathes, my teacher in Lederhosen. The man with a slight lisp. 

“Open your songbook,” Teacher says. 

My mother, Magda, buys me a Liederbuch. Boys and girls sing a Volkssong from Memelland with clear loud voices, “Zogen einst fünf wilde Schwäne, Schwäne leuchtend weiß und schön.” Once flew five wild swans, swans white and beautiful. 

“Schwarze, you can’t sing,” Teacher says. 

Dieter, Rudi, and I don’t make the school choir. Saturdays, I hear the children from the street, the Schlangenbau school windows wide open. 

Bavarian Forest chalk hills ridge. Danube River wetlands. Willow reeds and forsythia grow in bomb craters. A small pond. Just fifty meters downhill from where SS war prisoners worked in the factories of the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt airport. Flossenbürg subcamp for Russians, Poles, and Jews. A mass grave by the round well. 

Our renovated two-room Volksschule, the classrooms: tall windows, heavy oak door. And in Bavarian tradition, schoolchildren dress up and celebrate carnival during February Fasching at the Hofbräuhaus. Parade through winter streets. Snow on the concrete airport runway. 

Sankt Nikolaus and Christkindl. Iced gingerbread, Pfeffernüsse. My new fairy tale book by Brüder Grimm creates the surreal magic of witches and princesses during my childhood. Langer’s hill, where we take our wooden toboggans.

Gustav Jaich, the school principal. Teacher, Elfride Scholz, a young war widow. The Catholic priest, Pfarrer Böhm. Saturdays sewing and knitting with a Dominican nun, Schwester Anna. First Communion and Confirmation at the Regensburger Dom. Black and white school photos.

During that fourth year, my teacher, Anton Mathes, rides his scooter from Regensburg: Medieval Roman town, ten kilometers distance. Stalks this refugee settlement, families from Schlesien and Sudetenland. We are the only Magyars living in the old airport: Halle #7 by the Moosgraben creek. Butter yellow poplar trees. Birch trees. Using his classroom to meet kids, Teacher grooms relationships with the pre-pubescent. Married with two young sons. 

Movie days in the classroom, shades drawn. Whirring film reels. Classmates who see the fondling. Teacher stands behind me, his big body in the dark. My flowered cotton dress. My pigtails. I tell my best friend, Ingrid, one time. 

“Ich weiss es schon,” she says. I already know it.

Time and again, it is I whom Teacher chooses to target.

Five decades later, now living in Montréal, Canada, I still keep contact with old school friends. Send Christmas cards to Helga, the principal’s daughter. Spill my story in an email.

“Did you tell anyone?” Helga asks.

On and on it went. Year after year after year. He also molests boys. Finally, Anton Mathes is imprisoned. Sent into early retirement. 

“Er war in die Berge verzetzt, weisst du schon warum,” my friend Ingrid tells me. I am taking an overseas vacation in Europe with my family. Riding a train to Neutraubling. He was sent to the mountains, you know why.

Propped up by the illusion of a teacher’s work. Anton Mathes has nowhere to run, no tale to tell. 

“Guilty. Guilty.”

That happened to me. I thought I was the only one keeping it secret. Yes, it had happened. That’s where he parked his scooter.

 


ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.

‘Toy Train’ by Julia Marsiglio

I miss you baby girl.
Can I kiss you baby girl?
You’ll start walking pretty soon,
Under the cold December moon.
I’ll bundle you in many layers
And chase away all your cares
With Christmas cheer and a merry tune.
Baby girl, your eyes, how they shine!
You’re too young to say, so I must divine
That this toy train will do quite fine
For my baby girl, who’s just turned one,
Or at least in another life, so I would have done.

 


JULIA MARSIGLIO is a Canadian writer currently located in Montréal, Québec, who has been writing poetry and fiction since she was a child. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish language and literature from the University of Alberta in 2011.

Copyright © 2018 by Julia Marsiglio. All rights reserved.

 

‘Wish Book’ by John Tavares

Wish Book.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

The carols, decorations, and glitter drove Marko to anger. His bank account was empty, his worn wallet filled with tattered receipts, his mail full of unpaid bills. He couldn’t believe how broke he had become. He expected he’d find a job by now, but he felt as if no organization wanted to hire a paramedic. He needed to move faraway to a town in Northwestern Ontario and work as an air paramedic, but he was afraid of flying and didn’t want to leave Toronto. These days he felt his training was worthless. Years elapsed since he graduated from college, but he found no work as a paramedic; he worked part-time at a group home for people with intellectual disabilities. 

After two years of unemployment, having attended college full-time for three, he decided to try to work in public transit. He pinned his hopes on a job as a train operator with public transit, which paid well, but the interviewer was turned off by his style and conservative dress—his hand-me-down shoes and double-breasted suit. He erred on the side of caution, but it backfired with managers. The interview was a train wreck; he couldn’t conceal his disappointment, when he pounded his fist on the manager’s desk, since he felt desperate to land a union position, with contract guarantees. He even enjoyed commuting on public transit; he studied for most of his emergency medicine courses on the subway train to Centennial College. The idea of operating a subway train appealed to him, but afterwards he called human resources and the assistant said they had filled all vacant positions. 

Now, with Christmas a few days away, he didn’t have the funds to buy Ivana the Guess handbag she wanted. Ivana, too, was struggling. She was working like him, casual shifts and holiday weekends at a group home, but she also found a part-time job as a cleaner at a hospital. The group home had promised them both full-time jobs, but they barely paid their personal support workers minimum wage. Both employers had promised full-time jobs, but a conservative party was elected, and these organizations were government funded non-profit agencies, who expected job and budget cuts. 

He needed to find the funds to buy Ivana her Guess handbag now. He ransacked the piggy banks and coin jars he left hidden around the cramped apartment, in the rambling neo-Victorian mansion. He took a box of hardcover and academic health science books that he’d bought for college courses over to a second-hand bookstore, but the money he received in return was barely enough for a bag of groceries. Thinking he needed to take desperate measures, he remembered his friend Danny, a fellow paramedic student, who, alongside Marko, was in one of the paramedic crews that responded to a multi-vehicle pileup on the Highway 491 with numerous gruesome casualties. Afterwards, Danny was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He ended up driving a taxi and often visited Marko in his apartment. He expressed surprised when he saw Marko take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Danny thought it was a blessing that Marko couldn’t find work as a paramedic. He constantly replayed the scene of the gruesome expressway accident to Marko. Danny told him he could sell his prescription drugs for a profit. Marko told him he didn’t want to become involved in a criminal enterprise. A year later, Marko was broke and felt he could not depend on anyone, including his father, who died from agonizing cancer, medication helped alleviate. Days before the Christmas holidays, Marko still wanted to treat Ivana special, even during hard times. 

He went through the clutter of creams, lotions, colognes, perfumes, deodorants, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. A while ago, Danny told him he could sell the Prozac and Xanax for a tidy profit, but Marko had only a few left now, since he used the peachy pills, which he considered a lifesaver in stressful situations. He realized his mother probably had more prescription drugs, after his father suffered a prolonged and agonizing illness from prostate cancer that metastasized to his lung, liver, and brain.  Aside from undergoing chemotherapy, his father became a patient in palliative care at home. To alleviate his suffering, he used prescription painkillers and sleep medications before he died. Marko’s mother had a tendency to keep everything, from grocery receipts to utility bills from decades ago to prescription medication, beyond the best before or expiry date. Marko decided to pay his mother a surprise visit—he took the subway to his mother’s house just off Bloor Street West, near the coffee shop where he once did his high school homework. 

* * *

After graduating from York University, Ivana acquired a teaching degree from the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto. She couldn’t find a job as a teacher. She found the discipline in Toronto crowded with job seekers who couldn’t use their degrees in their chosen fields and competed for the few substitute teaching positions available with the Toronto school boards. She worked an overnight shift as a developmental services worker at the group home in Etobicoke for people with intellectual disabilities.  

Ivana kept asking Marko what he wanted for Christmas, but Marko wanted them to stick their pledge to abstain from giving Christmas gifts to each other as a pragmatic measure. Ivana insisted he tell her, or they wouldn’t make love that night. He told her that in an ideal world what he wanted for Christmas was an e-book reader. 

Ivana checked her bank account, but she was already over the limit in overdraft. She simply didn’t have the money to buy the e-book reader that Marko desired. She thought the idea of an e-book reader made perfect sense as well; both loved reading, but he spent more time reading, and read more books, faster. She was tired of hauling around boxes of books every time they were forced to move from one furnished room to another. With an e-book reader, all his bulky, heavy books, which consumed so much space in their living quarters, would find safe storage in digital files in the device memory, either in a flash drive or the micro-SD card.

She loved Marko. He loved her for her personality and intelligence, but they only became intimate after she wore a short tight skirt and a low-cut blouse at a Croatian soccer banquet in the church basement, so she suspected he was initially enamoured with her physicality. She remembered she even joked of working as a high-end escort when they had difficulty finding work, except she then found the prospect lamentable, loathsome, repulsive. Now she was reconsidering, and the idea seemed acceptable. 

She decided that if she was to afford a Christmas gift for him, she needed to hustle. She needed to advertise discreetly, but on the Internet, in classified ads, personals, women seeking men, et cetera. She looked at a website called Casual Encounters and placed a classified ad, trying to be hired as an escort and masseuse. She posted an advertisement offering super discreet personal services, including a massage with a happy ending. Within several hours, she had a response, and she quickly exchanged e-mails and text messages. Then she went to a house in the east end to make money. 

* * *

Marko snapped at his mother when she started asking about his personal life. She told him in Croatian he was better off moving back home, and his girlfriend was an unsuitable woman for someone as intelligent and promising as him. She wanted him to return home to save money and to apply to medical school at the University of Waterloo, so he could become a doctor. Ivana’s parents, she complained, were city slickers from Zagreb, who put on airs and pretended all their family and offspring were doctors, lawyers, bankers. 

“Mom, this is Toronto, and we’re both Canadian. Born and raised in boring Bloordale Village in Toronto. We met at Our Lady Queen of Croatia Church when we were teenagers, but that’s the end of it. We don’t even speak the language, hang out with your people, or go to church anymore.”

He listened to her worries about his diet. He looked thin. Was Ivana was feeding him properly? He explained he was mature enough to cook his own meals and wash his own laundry. He didn’t bother telling her he and his girlfriend were thinking of getting married in a civil ceremony at city hall. Even if she approved of their relationship, she would have been outraged they weren’t inviting the extended family, and disappointed they weren’t having a huge white wedding, a luxury they couldn’t afford for the foreseeable future. 

He went to use the washroom and found an empty bottle of OxyContin. Marko asked his mother about all the painkillers his father was forced to take to alleviate the symptoms of cancer. His mother told him the painkillers were still in his night table. She climbed up the stairs, slowly, carefully, and found the bottles of prescription painkillers, the synthetic opioids filled at the pharmacy the day his father died, he noted. His mother warned him about the painkillers, but asked no questions, since as far as she was concerned, her son could never do anything truly wrong. He put the prescription painkillers in his satchel bag, and headed to his apartment.

* * *

Ivana left a note, under a magnet on the refrigerator door, telling him that she had left the apartment to visit a friend. She intended to visit her first client. With only two days left until Christmas, time was running out, and she acted with a sense of urgency. 

* * *

Marko called his friend Danny, who told him he knew a stand-up guy who would buy the pills. Danny said he would set up a meeting for his friend from the paramedic program with the buyer at the Trapper Shack Burger restaurant, located near the intersection with Finch and Yonge Street, beside the 24-7 convenience store, a short walk from Shepherd subway station. The buyer would meet him shortly after midnight. 

At St. George subway station, Marko boarded a late-night subway train. During the commuter trip, he decided that if it took him a while to get acquainted with the buyer, and he missed the last southbound subway train, he would take the Blue Night bus service home back downtown. He hurried through the rain, which turned to sleet and snow, to the fast food restaurant. Cold, shivering, and anxious to use the washroom, he wished he had dressed warmer and had not drunk so much coffee. 

In fact, Marko felt so anxious that he took a lorazepam from his father’s medications. In the Trapper Shack Burger, Marko made a quick visit to the washroom, where a man, dressed in a heavy parka, insulated pants, a fur hat, and winter boots, warned him it was dangerous and the end was near. Outside the restaurant washroom, Danny introduced him to the prospective buyer and hurriedly left the fast food restaurant, after buying an ice cream cone. Danny’s quick exit into the gloomy weather made Marko more anxious. 

The man laughed, but Marko thought he was a gangster, a career criminal, which was partly what made him intimidating. He was bald, dressed in expensive distressed denim and polished loafers, and he looked like a member of the Russian mafia. The man then asked what he had, and Marko showed him the pill bottle.

“These looks like oxycodone,” he said. Holding the translucent bottle beneath the table, he examined the round tablets closely. He flashed the light from his smartphone on the contents. “You’ll sell these to me?” Marko nodded and mutely mouthed the word yes. 

“You’re under arrest for possession of narcotics for the purposes of trafficking.” The man held Marko’s arm with a firm grip as he flashed a driver’s license and went through his arrest procedure. He handcuffed him, and escorted him out of the Trapper Shack Burger restaurant and across the parking lot at the back to his black car.

 

* * *

Ivana went to the house on Yonge Street. She thought her client lived in quite an affluent neighbourhood, but when she arrived at the address she found a rundown house between a bicycle repair shop, and a Starbucks café. The man was dressed like a playboy and smelled of an expensive cologne, a subtle, nuanced, musky, yet appealing scent. He wore an elegant scarf, and he introduced himself as a filmmaker and movie producer. He asked if she wanted to join him on a road trip to a film festival in New York City during which he planned to visit Sofia Coppola.  

Then he asked her if she would give him a full body massage. She said she wasn’t an experienced masseuse, but she would do her best. He asked her if she would provide him with some oral pleasure.

“As in deep—”

“Yes, that would be even better.”

“My boyfriend likes it. How much are you willing to pay?”

Whatever her rates were, he replied, as long as they were reasonable.

Yes, of course, she said, and started to unbuckle, unbutton, and unzip his pants. He pulled out a leather wallet, opened the billfold, and showed her a shiny badge and his Toronto police identification. 

“You’re under arrest for communicating or attempting to communicate with a person for the purpose of engaging in or obtaining sexual services.” 

* * *

Standing alongside what looked like an unusual car for police, Marko decided to tell the officer the truth. The man frisked and searched him as he stood handcuffed to a Ford Mustang. 

“I was just trying to make enough money to buy my girlfriend a Christmas present. I haven’t been able to find a job.” Marko told him how depressing it was being unemployed, and the difficulty he had finding work in the field he trained for, paramedicine. With a criminal record, it would be impossible to find work as a paramedic, although he sometimes got the impression that the best paramedics were rogues and renegades, unafraid to go the extra distance to try to save a patient’s life. This was the first time he had ever been arrested or charged with anything. The man went into his car, while Marko stood handcuffed to the passenger door handle. After emerging several minutes later, the officer said that he checked his name in the database and found no hits. Marko thought it was unusual. He hadn’t heard a police radio, and hadn’t seen a laptop screen. 

“You’re lucky I haven’t called this in.” The man eyed the pills in their translucent bottle. He peeled the labels off with his sharp fingernails before he deposited the container in his leather bomber pocket. “You’re also lucky it’s practically Christmas eve.” Looking at his bejewelled wristwatch, the man saw the time was well past midnight. “In fact, it is Christmas eve.” His breath made a huge cloud of smoke in the freezing air as he exhaled, and with a sigh, he unlocked the handcuffs. “You’re a persuasive talker. I don’t know why you’re not working in communications.”

“I was trained as a paramedic.”

“Yeah, but a man has to eat. You could even work as a police dispatcher. Car 19, break-in at Finch and Jane, suspects fleeing on foot —something along those lines. Whatever, dude. I just don’t want to see you on my beat again. Get out of my sight.”

The man drove off with the painkiller pills, and sped through red lights at the intersection of Yonge with Finch Street. Thinking he had just stepped out of a house of mirrors, Mark thought he could use some pharmacological relief right about now. When he realized he never saw the man’s identification—he had merely seen the flash of what appeared to be a plain provincial driver’s license—he wondered if he’d just assumed the man possessed a badge, or if he was a retired, fired, or rogue cop. Perhaps he’d been an impersonator.

In the nighttime chill of the north end of North York, light snow drifted, powdering cement and asphalt. Marko walked down Yonge Street and underground into the subway station. The token and ticket collector shouted he’d missed the last subway train for the night.

Marko left the subway station, walked to the next bus stop, and boarded the all-night bus. The factory shift workers and pub-crawlers were already pushing their way through the standing crowd. He rode the bus home southbound along Yonge. In a meditative mood, he walked along Bloor Street through the falling snow to the apartment in the rambling, dilapidated Victorian mansion that he shared with Ivana.

* * *

When Ivana saw the undercover police officer’s identification, she gasped and told him she couldn’t find work in education because of an oversupply of teachers. She was currently making minimum wage and worked alongside high school dropouts hired off the street. She told him that if she was charged and had a criminal record, she would never pass a background check for a teaching position. She could even be fired from her current position. She had only decided to advertise to provide personal services this close to the holiday season to buy her boyfriend a silly e-book reader. She told the cop her boyfriend loved reading, but books were a major inconvenience whenever they were forced to move from house to apartment to rooming-house to student residence and dormitory and back again. 

The plainclothes officer told her he was separated from his wife because of his work, but he currently didn’t have any outlet whatsoever. He wondered if she would be able to provide him with some oral pleasure as a favor after all—one good deed deserving another. 

She couldn’t see any harm in the quid pro quo. The price was worth her freedom and reputation. In fact, a favour seemed like insurance against prosecution.

He drove her to an underground parking garage in a nearby office building, dark, empty, with dingy walls of cement blocks and cracked floors of concrete. He unbuckled and unzipped his khaki trousers and she reached for his shrivelled member, shrunken from the damp chill. 

* * *

Tipsy from liqueur and coffee, the couple decided to visit Our Lady Queen of Croatia Church for Midnight Mass. The gifts they received in parcels, wrapped in twine, from their parents, they regifted and exchanged with each other. For Christmas dinner, they walked to the sprawling McDonalds on Yonge Street, across from the strip club and comic bookstore. They ordered hamburgers and fries, and substituted hot coffee and sugar for iced Cokes.

Trying to reassure each other that their love was precious enough of a gift to each other, they decided in the future they’d celebrate Christmas without gift exchanges. For dessert, they feasted on apple pies—two for a dollar—and soft ice cream cones. Then they ordered more ice cream cones coated with crushed peanuts and candy cane sprinkles. They gorged themselves and ate yet another round of pies, which Ivana insisted were frozen apple turnovers reheated in a microwave oven. Afterwards, they felt so energized and celebratory that they broke into a food fight, which a few other customers happily joined in on, until they were all asked to leave by the manager. 

They passed by the Eaton Centre, where crews operating skyjacks and cranes took down the huge Sears sign for the department store. “The Wish Book is dead,” said Ivana. They hiked home through a storm growing into a blizzard. They climbed over drifts downtown, throwing snowballs, laughing, running along the sidewalk, and surprising people with hearty Christmas greetings. 

 


JOHN TAVARES was born & raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and is the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. His education includes graduation from 2-year GAS at Humber College in Etobicoke with a concentration in psychology (1993), 3-year journalism at Centennial College in East York (1996) & the Specialized Honors BA in English from York University in North York (2012). He worked as a research assistant for the Sioux Lookout Public Library & as a research assistant in waste management for the SLKT public works department & regional recycle association. He also worked with the disabled for the Sioux Lookout Association for Community Living. Following a long time fascination with psychology, economics & investments, he successfully completed the Canadian Securities Course (2015).

Copyright © 2018 by John Tavares. All rights reserved.

‘Rifle’ by Conor DiViesti

Rifle

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Pete held the bundle of white cloth and in it, the rifle. If someone were looking from far away as he stood knocking at Marta’s door, they might’ve thought he was offering her a bouquet of flowers. Barry, who had been Pete’s best friend until he’d stepped on an IED, had restored the weapon. It was a Ross 1905. Barry’s great-grandfather had carried it at Second Ypres. 

Pete and Barry used to glare at it as boys, craning their necks up to where it hung above the fireplace. They’d shot bottles with it back in high school, drunk as hell. Pete once considered that instance as the rifle’s most dangerous action since it’d been pointed at Germans. 

That wasn’t true anymore.

Marta opened the door, and didn’t pretend to smile. “Is that it?” Pete nodded to her. “Come in then.”

She sat him down at the kitchen table and Pete laid the rifle against the checkered tablecloth. He didn’t roll it out.

“I thought we were done with everything,” she said.

“We are,” said Pete. “I’m just bringing it back from the station. Investigation determined it wasn’t… you know.” Murder. No one had said the word, even when Pete had gone through the motions of questioning Luke; Marta’s boy. Barry’s boy. 

Garrett McCoy was dead; the rifle’s first victim in a hundred years. They all knew it was an accident. Pete was just doing his job by following up.

“I don’t want it,” said Marta. “You take it. Barry would’ve liked that.”

Pete broke eye contact. He looked down at his wrist where the red poppy tattoo poked out from the cuff of his police uniform. It was the only colour work he had in a collection of black and grey. He tugged at the cuff and covered it, but it wouldn’t stay put.

Outside the kitchen window, Ian McCoy sat on the deck. Ian and Luke were so close that seeing Ian alone was jarring. The kid was peculiar, a real dork. He always had some tactile hobby on the go, like magic tricks or winging a yo-yo while other freshly teenaged boys fiddled with electronics. He sat motionless now, with no gimmick in his hands. Ian squinted up at the sun, letting the spring wind rustle his hair. His older brother used to rustle his hair like that.

“I need to speak with him one more time.”

“Ian?” Marta asked. “Go ahead.”

“No,” said Pete. “Luke.” Marta lowered her head like a bull.

“He’s been through enough. They both have.”

“Christ, Marta, I know. He shot someone. I promised his dad I’d look out for him. Accident or not that’s going to—” Pete stopped cold. Marta’s fists clenched at the tablecloth, shifting the rifle gently in her direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say—”

“Go talk to him,” she interrupted. “When you’re done, I think it’s best you don’t come around for a while.”

#

Luke’s room was on the top floor of the house. Pete went in without knocking. Luke sat over a desk facing a window that looked out on the road. He was fiddling with a model tank. The poison stink of super glue hung heavy in the air. 

“You should open a window,” Pete said. Luke remained silent. Pete sat down on the bed near the desk. Beside Luke was a framed picture of soldiers posing in the desert. Pete realized Barry’s face would be among them and so didn’t look at it long enough to pick him out.

“I told you I didn’t do it on purpose,” Luke said as he lowered the turret onto the tank.

“I know, I believe you.”

“Thought he was a deer.”

“I know. I’m here to talk to you, see how you’re doing. Your mum’s worried.”

Luke looked up from his work. Pete couldn’t figure out if the boy’s eyes were red from lack of sleep, crying, or the fumes from the glue. “I don’t care about her,” said Luke.

“Fine,” said Pete, knowing—or hoping —the kid didn’t mean it. “What about Ian? His brother’s gone. He could probably use a friend around now.”

Something cracked in Luke’s hand. He swore and threw the turret at the window. It bounced away onto the floor. 

Pete sighed, thinking that maybe this was a bad idea. Best to let him be. He stood up and picked the tank turret up from the floor. As he crouched, he saw another framed picture in the trash bin. 

Ian and Luke stood at a creek dangling fish up for the camera. By the look of their faces, the photo was taken maybe four or five years ago. They beamed, big toothed and bright the way only ten-year-olds can. Garrett McCoy stood between them with his big arms draped over their shoulders. He’d been a handsome young man, barely twenty-five. The kind of guy two young boys would look up to.

“Garret was like a brother to you too, wasn’t he?” Pete set the broken turret back on the desk.

Luke spun in his chair and faced Pete. “No. He wasn’t.”

Pete let Luke be and headed back downstairs. He returned to the kitchen to pick up the rifle. As he opened his mouth to say goodbye, he froze in the doorway. 

Ian sat on Marta’s lap, his face buried in her chest. Both were weeping.

“I miss him too,” Marta said. 

She had held Pete like that once. The night they heard about Barry. Something in Pete’s gut stung. The same feeling as getting insulted when you’re too far in the drink. Like getting mad and knowing you’re taking it the wrong way.

Still, he couldn’t shake it. She’d cried like that for Barry. Didn’t seem right to give the same emotion to Garrett McCoy.

#

Pete got back in his cruiser and took one last look at the house, realizing he’d forgotten the rifle. He was thinking about going back for it when he caught Luke staring down at him from the top floor window. The boy didn’t return Pete’s wave and so he thought better of going back inside.

That was that. He pulled out of the front yard, the cruiser bobbing over the uneven gravel. 

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it back,” Barry had said the last time Pete managed to speak withhim.

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true. We just… things are getting worse.”

“You can handle it.”

The phone signal buzzed through their pause.

“You look after Marta and Luke. If it happens.”

“It won’t come to that.” Pete hadn’t wanted to legitimize Barry’s mood, but he’d figured it was what his friend needed to hear. “You know I’ll take care of them,” he’d said. Barry sighed.

“Thanks.” The last word Barry spoke to him flew up from Kandahar and bounced back down. Pete had heard the smile in it even through the satellite phone. 

#

Pete wrote tickets and handled noise complaints through spring and summer; giving warnings to teenagers partying on the lake, putting Bradley Wilkes into the tank one evening after he’d thrown a pint glass at the bar. 

He didn’t go back to the house. When he saw Marta around town, in the supermarket or on the street, he’d nod and pull a smile over his face, but she returned his politeness less and less. Eventually he started ducking her.

He wrote letters but never sent them. One night he stayed up until four writing one for Luke to open on his eighteenth birthday. He threw in stories about Barry and himself, what they got up to as kids. The kind of bullshit they pulled on neighbors and the time they smashed the windows of their school rivals in the next town over. How he and Ian reminded him of Pete and his father. Things happen, he wrote. The letter wound up in the trash the next morning.

He was going off duty when his phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and saw Marta’s name flashing on the screen.

Her voice was panicked and she was sobbing. Pete tried to calm her down, putting his work voice on. She screamed and he headed to his car, keeping the phone on speaker.

Pete roared down to the house and saw Luke and Ian going at it on the yard. The car was barely stopped as he ran out. Ian’s face was bloody and red. His fist went fast into Luke’s nose. It cracked hard and Luke took his friend down, breathing through his teeth and spraying blood.

Marta shouted from the porch.

Pete grabbed Luke by his shirt and tore him away. Ian lunged but Pete managed to hold him back.

“He knew Garret fished at the creek in the morning!” Ian’s voice was like shattered glass. “He could’ve gone anywhere else but he went there!”

“You’re lying, you’re a liar just like he was!”

They lunged again, thrashing at Pete’s arms as he held them apart. Nails tore into his skin.

“Stop it!” Pete shouted. “Cut it out, now!” He yanked Ian away toward the car like a dog. Luke paced behind them.

“Never come back here,” Luke said. Marta ran down from the porch and wrapped her arms around her son, struggling to keep him in place. Ian began to shudder and Pete loosened his grip on the boy. He turned back to Marta.

“I’ll take him home,” he said to her. She bit her lip and kissed Luke’s neck. 

#

He let Ian ride up front on the way back to town. The boy breathed heavy, fighting to keep himself composed.

“Here,” Pete said, offering him a tissue. Ian wiped clumsily at the blood drying under his nose. “You two shouldn’t fight like that,” Pete said, trying to kill the silence. “But I know good friends can get into it sometimes.” He smiled. “Hell, me and Luke’s dad used to get into all kinds of—”

“Please, shut up,” said Ian.

“Sorry.” They didn’t speak again for several minutes. The sound of tires and the gravel road filled the car with white noise. It made Pete nervous. “I’m just saying,” he said. “You both lost somebody close. You two should be helping each other, not throwing fists.”

“He just couldn’t stand it,” Ian said through a sniffle. “He thinks he got the short end, his dad dying and all. But Barry went to Afghanistan on his own account. Garrett never did nothing…” His eyes twisted close.

“Alright, let’s not talk anymore,” said Pete. He put his hand on the kid’s shoulder. In a few moments, Ian stopped shaking.

Garret’s truck still sat in the driveway when Pete pulled up the McCoy house. A for-sale sign hung in the rear windshield.

“That true what you said?” Pete asked as Ian cracked the door open. “About Luke knowing Garret would be there in the morning?”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Ian.

Pete watched the kid amble up his porch and through the front door. As he drove off, Pete thought about that picture in Luke’s trash and the fish dangling loosely in their hands.

#

Pete was on his way home but went out to the bar instead. Jenny welcomed him and had a 50 on the counter by the time he sat down. Pete thanked her and took a sip, looking out at the nick knacks on the wall; an old dart board with a crack in it, a map of the county turned yellow by cigarette smoke from back in the day. His eyes stopped on a photo taped to the mirror. Garret McCoy looked back at him, face glowing and arms around a group of friends sitting at the bar.

“Sad thing,” said Jenny.

“You bet.”

Karen O’Neill sat three stools down from Pete and gave him a nod. She had a look on her face like she had something to say. Pete waved her over. 

Karen was Marta and Luke’s neighbor. The dragon tattoo on her neck slithered as she stretched her way onto the stool beside Pete.

“How you doing?” Pete asked.

Karen shrugged. “Kid got suspended again. Dropped him at my mums to get a breather. How about you?”

“Went down to Marta’s,” said Pete. “Had to stop Luke Coley and Ian McCoy from killing each other.

“Shit,” said Karen. “Those poor kids.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“You ask me,” Karen said as if Pete did, “neither of them had much chance. That Marta, she should be ashamed of herself.” 

Pete set his beer down. “What’s that?”

“I ought to keep out of it,” said Karen. “But…”

“But you won’t,” he said, faking a smile. Karen had been that way since they were young. Karen shrugged.

“That one there,” she said, pointing to Garret’s picture. “I don’t much blame him. Young guys, you know how they are. Can’t resist it. When McCoy started pulling his truck up to her house late—and I mean real late—I thought ‘well, here’s a right tool, eh?’ Then when I seen Marta all tarted up, heading down the front steps to Garrett’s truck like James friggin’ Bond, I knew it was really her fault. She’s not that much younger than you and me. Like I said, should know better.”

Pete blinked. “Jesus, Karen.”

Karen tipped her beer to her lips, it bubbled as she nodded. Pete wondered how long ago she’d dropped her kid off. “I’m sorry, Petey. I know you and Barry was real close. You just… you should know.”

“How many times?”

Karen laughed. “Hell, more than a few. Maybe a year’s worth, I think.”

Pete paid for his beer and left Karen alone at the bar. He was meaning to walk home but when he got there he didn’t stop. He kept on down the road, stopping once at a gas station out of town to buy a pack of Viceroys and a lighter. 

He choked down two smokes and then threw the pack in a bush. Pete never admitted to himself he was heading to Marta’s, but wound up there all the same. It was well after dark and the air smelled like the wet piles of leaves collecting near the woods. October was almost through, only the second one since Barry’s death. If Garrett was shot in spring and him and Marta had been at it for almost a year by then, that meant Barry had still been alive when they’d started. 

Pete stood at the mouth of the driveway looking up at the house. He imagined Garrett’s truck rumbling up through here, sneaking as quiet as a pick-up could. Then he thought of Marta coming down the porch steps, smiling in an old dress so unworn it ought it be called new again.

Pete looked up from the porch to the top window. The light was on and Luke was staring down at him.

 


CONOR DIVIESTI writes and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Copyright © 2018 by Conor DiViesti. All rights reserved.

‘No Flowers on the Psych Ward’ by Ilona Martonfi

You Don't Bring Me Flowers

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

“Katarina! Katarina!” A female patient shouts in her room. Her voice, coarse and grating. “Come Katarina!”

“Shut up! Shut up!” A male patient yells back.

My eldest daughter lives in St. Mary’s Hospital psychiatric ward. Her name is tacked on a billboard. Patient status: Number 1. Date: January 8, 2001. Her backpack, salt-stained ankle boots, and parka are in a locked room. She can’t leave the ward without her doctor’s permission.

A pink slip of paper. A psychiatrist’s report. Cleaning her overheated, cat litter smelling, hardwood floor apartment a couple of years earlier, I found the hospital report: cognitive disorder associated with epilepsy, chronic. Borderline retardation and psychotic episodes greatly impair insight and judgment. Patient regressed to the mentality of an eight-year-old. Suffers from generalized anxiety: Permanent. The contribution of a chronic disease, sarcoidosis in the lungs, to mental state, is unknown. The hospital is requesting public curatorship.

Room 23 is filled with the sound of a radio blaring. The sun is streaming in through vertical blinds, across apple-green walls. With four female patients to a room, I find her lying on the bed. Short-sleeved, sky-blue cotton gown. Strings, untied. 

“Marisa, you’re not cold?” I ask. She is recovering from pneumonia. Ten days on antibiotics. 

“The doctor came by. He is going to take another X-ray.” 

My daughter half-smiles. Close by, a middle-aged woman snores loudly, a rumpled lilac blanket pulled to her chin. A typical Sunday visit. 

“Who are you?” one roommate asks. 

“I’m Marisa’s mother,” I respond. Terse. Clipped. I don’t want to be here shaking this woman’s hand. Sadness grips and twists my unshed tears. An ill daughter’s life. A dirge. The special daughter. Our three other children are not ill. 

My ex-husband remarried. They don’t visit here. Don’t call here. And Marisa doesn’t call them either. Medicated and growing heavier from side effects. The white-painted door closed to the static noise of a television in the common room. 

The little girl in a red top and blue cotton shorts, Marisa, who stuttered in first grade, took a yellow school bus. A Montreal suburb bungalow. Apple trees in the yard. Geraniums. Jasmine. Wild roses. At six, she stood up to her father, “Stop hitting mama.”

I busy myself: Organize tapes and CD’s. Trash old magazines. Hang up fluffy white towels that are thrown on the bed.

“I want to leave the hospital. I want to go home!” Marisa complains. 

Six years earlier, she had a house and a home. At thirty-six, she is the mother of three. Two daughters and one son. Youth Protection Court. Divorce Court. “Unfit mother!” Full custody to the father. I supervise her children’s monthly visits in my downtown studio “to prevent accidental harm to children.” 

During two hours, she hugs and kisses her children. Not a single word escapes her chapped lips. She smiles. Hugs. Is angry with me because I supervise. 

“Will we become sick like mom?” they are worried. Beautiful, smart, sad, and lonely grandchildren. Raised by their father, his new partner, and great-grandparents.

“I want to leave the hospital,” Marisa continues her complaining. 

The Old Brewery Mission for women. Home for my homeless daughter. Marisa rents a curtained cubicle with a single bed at the shelter. Roams cafes nearby until suppertime.

She is here in the psychiatric ward, because she suffered a panic attack. Picked up by ambulance at metro Beaudry. “A woman sitting beside me, called for help,” she’d said.

“Do you need anything?” I ask now. 

“Let’s go to the cafeteria,” she says. 

“We’re going to the coffee shop,” I tell a doctor. 

“Marisa, you can’t go out today,” says her nurse. “You have permission for daily thirty-minute outings. Yesterday, you were fifteen minutes late coming back.” 

She doesn’t own a watch. Doesn’t wear earrings or a pearl necklace. Doesn’t wear chiffon dresses. Walks in snowstorms without a wool hat or scarf. Parka unbuttoned. Boots, unlaced. Short cropped hair, unkempt. She refuses to cut her nails. When married she washed her hands all the time, until they were red and sandpaper dry. Her lung sarcoidosis exploding into pneumonia. She likes to test the rules and the patience of the staff. Exhausted, she exhausts me. For years now.

We settle for the dining room. I watch her sip apple juice through thick plastic straws. Her large hazel eyes look at me innocently. “I don’t belong here with these people,” she says. I look around: the room is deserted, except for a man and a woman. They sit alone, staring at their stoneware mugs. Islands of maple wood tables shape their Sunday afternoon. A nurse hands out cups of medications. Gives one to my daughter. 

After an hour I get up to leave. Plant a kiss on her cheek. Promise to visit the following week. An electronic door buzzes me out. I quickly walk away. I look back only once: a woman dressed in a hospital gown and blue jeans. Unlaced running shoes. Marisa ambles slowly down the corridor.

 


ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.

‘Mud’ by Joe Bongiorno

Mud

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Kilometers from Kandahar’s sewage scent and mortar symphony, Private Joseph Lespérance of the Canadian Infantry was letting himself sink in the crater of mud, slowly, without resistance, as the rain continued to pour. His ears buzzed—sound was returning to him. He could hear Allah’s name echoing from the distant village mosque where followers cleansed their feet of toe jam and sin, and the heavy breathing of someone an arm’s length away from his body. His intuition told him that only he and Blume had survived.  Lespérance opened his eyes, unsure of whether he wanted to prove himself right or wrong; through his blurred vision, he made out Blume’s pale face.

The pressure cooker bombs had exploded one by one in coordinated waves of shrapnel and fire, tearing the earth open like a mouth. Privates Farrow and Skalski lay in bits strewn across the crater. Moments before the explosions, the patrol unit of four had reached checkpoint Aashiq to secure the deserted farmlands south of the mountain village. Insurgents had operated out of the deserted farmhouses before being snuffed, but there was always the risk of it being recaptured. The patrol took their positions. Lespérance was on lookout duty, his boots inches deep in sticky mud. Rain dribbled down his binocular lenses while he scanned the hills, trying to distinguish plotters from passersby. But his mind was drifting. The sky was pouring for the ninth consecutive day, transforming the dust and dirt roads of the Helmand province into rivers of sludge. It was consuming the land and everything in it. 

“Joseph?” Blume mumbled, letting go of his Colt C7 rifle. He attempted to remove his boots from his feet, but his legs were stuck in the mud as deep as roots.

Lespérance tasted the coppery sweetness of blood. Lying on his side, he touched the pear-shaped wound in his abdomen and closed his eyes. 

“Joseph, are you there? I can’t see.” 

Lespérance opened his lips to speak, but he had nothing to say. He had played out his confrontation with Blume in his mind until he had grown sick of it. He tried to tune Blume out, listening to the drip-drop of rain and crackling of dying flames. Smoke was all around them like curtains, making the world opaque while the mud drew them closer together in descent.

“You there, Joseph?” Blume said louder, wiping the mud from his eyes. “

“Guess you can say that,” replied Lespérance.

“You hurt? I can’t see a fucking thing. Not a thing.”

“What’s it to you?” Lespérance mumbled. The mud had reached his elbows, pulling his waist in. 

“What kind of question is that?” Blume cried. “I think we’re sinking!” Blume was feeling out the crater for something solid to hold onto. “For fuck’s sake, pull me out. I can’t move my legs!”

Lespérance spit to the side and opened his eyes to watch the smoke climb skyward. “It’s about time I get a change of scenery,” he said, closing his eyes again. “You know, away from here. Away from you.”

Outside the crater, men shouted in Pashto. The tones of their voices rose, celebrating or lamenting either victory or tragedy.

 “I can’t see” moaned Blume. He rubbed his eyes. The same eyes that had caught Lespérance’s wink in the barracks two years ago and accepted an invitation after a moment’s hesitation. He spread out his arms, trying to propel himself forward in a blind swim, but it took hold of his right hand. He swore, swaying back and forth before plunging in the free fist in frustration, burying himself deeper with each movement. “You told yourself things,” Blume continued. “Convinced yourself of things that you didn’t really believe. You did that!”

Lespérance leaned his head back and exhaling. His limbs were no longer visible—they had been absorbed into the ground. 

“I’ve got it all worked out.” Blume said. “I’m gonna sell the condo for a bigger place.  Maybe I’ll move to the country.” 

“You hate the country,” Lespérance replied. 

“…up in the mountains, view of water and woods.” 

“You’re afraid of heights.” 

“…away from city smog. Fresh mountain air. Wildflowers.” 

“You have allergies….” 

“…gonna built a house from scratch. And start a family. 

“You hate kids.”

“I’ve got—” Blume searched for the right words to defend himself. 

“No one.” Lespérance finished the sentence. 

Silence ensued as the mud drew their sinking, breaking bodies closer, faces only inches apart. Lespérance remembered a day nine months ago, when he had woken up at three o’clock in the morning. He had climbed down from his bunk and gone to meet Blume by the latrine like they’d arranged, but Blume never turned up.  By four o’clock, Lespérance had dragged himself back to the tent and had climbed back into his bunk, feeling dumb and rejected. That’s when I should’ve figured it out, thought Lespérance, as he sunk deeper into the tar-thick mud. 

“Is it a boy or girl?” Lespérance asked. Blume had broken that news after nine months of distance. Blume’s wife was pregnant, and she due to deliver next month. His tour was coming to an end. He sent his request for an honorary discharge and packed his belongings in advance. “Were you ever going to—”

“I’m leaving this shithole!” Blume interrupted. 

No words were spoken between them in the company of others, though the only audience they had now were the charred remains of Skalski and Farrow deep in the mouth of the crater. They had always stuck to a script of public silence during their tours, returning home to disparate lives for weeks at a time, one in Ontario, and the other, in Quebec. Either by fate or coincidence, they always ended up in the same regiments, performing their duties without raising any eyebrows and seizing moments alone to plan future encounters in barracks washroom stalls. 

“Were you ever going to tell me that you got married?” asked Lespérance.

“You knew I was engaged,” said Blume, lowering his voice as though concerned the dead would hear. “Why does it matter?”

“You weren’t supposed to go through with it!”

“You don’t decide that for me!” yelled Blume. “You’re not in the picture! It was convenient. That’s all,” he added breathing hard, looking half-relieved. 

Their faces drew even closer, lips only inches apart in the mud. Lespérance had seen enough of Afghanistan. Enough of Blume. The opaque world was quickly boring him.

Seconds before the pressure cooker bombs went off, Lespérance had been watching for enemy movement in the trees. He’d lost himself in the barbed wired opium fields, in the swaying weeds, in the willow trees, in the fabric of distant mud hut doors of recycled oil drums and tin. Birds had been squawking ominously, but he’d said nothing. Silhouettes of suspicious bodies had lingered in the tall weeds, but again, he’d said nothing. Lespérance had zoomed in with his binoculars, seeing the Afghan escort arrive out of position: three men without uniform by a machine gun mounted Chevy. He’d zoomed in as the driver held up his cellular phone, waiting to press the detonation key. It had even seemed like the driver was staring back at him. Lespérance had read all the signs and had still said nothing.

Outside the crater, men had been shouting over an orchestra of gunfire. Getting closer and closer. A matter of moments, minutes, seconds. 

“Do you have a picture of her in your breast pocket?” Lespérance’s face was slipping under. He spat, lifting his lips above the surface to finish his sentence, “Or do you have a picture of me?” His lips sank in. 

Blume replied inaudibly. He coughed, choked, and finally gave in, as the mud forced itself into his mouth, nostrils and ears. 

Lespérance wanted to have the last word, but he couldn’t. He was nose-deep in. He closed his eyes, and then the mud sealed them shut.

 


JOE BONGIORNOis a writer of fiction and non-fiction and works as a high school teacher in his native Montreal. His writing has appeared in Geist, Broken Pencil,Carte Blanche, Existere, and The Headlight Anthology. He is currently working on a novel.

Copyright © 2018 by Joe Bongiorno. All rights reserved.

‘A Great Disturbance in Nature’ by Jason Bentsman

A Great Disturbance in Nature

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

(from The Orgastic Future)

The following is a self-contained excerpt from The Orgastic Future, a novella the author comepleted recently about consumerism, plastic pollution, climate change, runaway ego, and other threats facing the planet— in a sense the literary equivalent of a Bruegal or Bosch painting.

The excerpt deals with the ramifications of Climate Change, and asks what it will take for people to finally ‘wake up’ to our precipitous path?

 

A Great Disturbance In Nature

As I write this passage in late September, there has been an unprecedented heatwave in Montreal for the last ten days. Right now it is almost 90° Fahrenheit (32° Celsius), with 90% humidity. Feels like a suffocating hothouse in the tropics. Simply walking outside generates thin sheets of sweat and shortness of breath—I’m like a fish gasping for water. I’ve always wanted to know what walking through warm soup feels like, and now with the wonders of climate change, I do! Another goal accomplished. #lifegoals (This hashtag is a shout-out for the kidz. Not my kids; don’t have any. Just the kids at large. Very unliterary of me, I daresay.)

And this is Montreal, mind you—Quebec, northward part of the world—where for 375 years since its founding, and thousands upon thousands if not millions before, temperatures this time of year have been consistently chilly or wintry, sometimes snowing. A number of records have been broken: today is by far the hottest of this date on record (since 1742), and several other days have been as well.

The natural world is confused. The leaves change color and dry out, branches grow denuded, everything settles in for quiescence and sleep—and suddenly a rip-roaring heatwave and burning sun. The leaves perk up again, vacillate this way and that. Some of the plants and flowers begin to release pollen; suddenly pollen is in the air again. The bees—still mysteriously dying out, most likely from widespread pesticides, their leagues growing thinner and thinner—buzz about akimbo, this way and that, confused. Squirrels save up nuts for the winter, and then say, ‘Ah, what?! Fuck it.’ Flocks of migrating geese, long black V-shaped silhouettes far on the horizon, start flying backwards in rewind. Water freezes, liquefies, boils, vaporizes, condenses, freezes again. Fires burn over waters. Ashes dust across prairies. The whole body and innards of the planet are having trouble communicating.

Clearly, there is a great disturbance in Nature. Animals feel it, plants feel it, insects feel it…bacteria and viruses…the entire planet…even particles feel it. Anyone with even a remote connection to nature can feel it. It takes a great deal of disconnection from the natural world, and one’s own subconscious, and/or willful blindness and repression, not to feel it. Unfortunately, contemporary society facilitates all of the above. At this rate, John Keats would only be able to pen odes to Summer. Vivaldi would only write music about the One Season. The documentary Endless Summer will no longer be a fond metaphor.

These drastic climatic changes have come about in the last fifteen or so years, especially the last several. Before that, they were scarcely noticeable. In only my thirty some years on this planet, about a nanosecond (a billionth of a second!) of its age, I’ve watched the weather go from multiseasonal, regular, reliable, sane, and self-regulating—no one questioned this self-contained logic, it was taken for granted, seemingly self-evident—to quasi-seasonal, irregular, unpredictable, schizophrenic, spastic. How much it has changed in the last decade! The perennial, cyclical, intuitive, reassuringly fond processes have been upended and spliced about like a deck of cards adulterated randomly with extra cards and Jokers.

And then, incidentally, think of the monumental technological and informational changes. Inventions thought distant science fiction are already embedded fact. DNA manipulation. Cloning. Brain-computer interfacing. Bionics. Realistic holograms. Immersive Virtual Reality. X-Ray Vision. Self-piloting vehicles. Invisibility cloaking. Nanobots. Workable androids. Flying cars. Intergalactic travel. Jules Verne would bescumber himself! And all of this in but a nanosecond of the planet’s existence!

My generation likely has witnessed more exponential and radical change by far than any other in history. An eminently interesting time to live in: and eminently terrifying.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a strange time.

Half the planet lived in primitive poverty and disease. The other half in profligacy and technological disarray.

In fact, the prevailing social-economic system relied on producing innumerable products of every size and variety made to be disposed of as quickly as possible.

When for ages people had gone to cafes and coffee shops for conversation, they now did so to stare at computer screens.

When once books had been written mainly by persons of learning and read by the public, now they were written by the public and read by nobody.

 


When All Is Said and Done

What will it take for enough people, a critical mass, to wake up and a large-scale movement to happen? Wide-ranging cataclysms, near-Apocalypse? Or will nothing reverse the tide? Are we too irrevocably brainwashed by the consumerist system? Are the evolutionarily older parts of our brains, and even our prefrontal cortexes, just too bygone and maladapted to the exponentially changing conditions of the 21st century for us to be widely judicious, compassionate, responsible, and wise? And humanity’s fate is to be flotsam, shorn against the ruins?

One might say cavalierly: “but this is the fate of all things anyway.” Yet, what a shame for a run so promising—of some 350,000 years, or if one considers the ‘archaic’ and ‘proto’ ancestors ‘modern humans’ developed and branched off from, millions—that in spite of teeming horror, self-inflicted suffering, and wastefulness—particularly in the last ten millennia or so—also yielded so many beauteous artefacts, amazing artworks, magnificent architectures, inspiring attitudes, and acts of worth, to be snuffed out so obtusely and crassly. And maybe at the cusp of an evolutionary transition into something Finer. Maybe.

An absurd end. A black mirror. A whimper, not a bang. Although, yes: a bang for the buck. ‘Well, the world’s in ruins, and humanity’s decimated. But for one glorious moment in time, we sure turned a lot of profits for our shareholders!’

And indeed, when all is said and done, when all is buried and disintegrated, when the buildings, bridges, and tunnels have crumbled; when the businesspersons’ enterprises and empires have long since gone out of business, or been coopted and remade; when the new inventions long outmoded and assimilated; when the politicians long past flapping their lips and now fertilizer in empty graves; when theorems incorporated and far surpassed—what are humanity’s most vital and enduring contributions, which it can be proudest of and might like to show other cognizant species in the Universe?

These must be its deepest and most arresting artworks. Its profoundest philosophies. What could be called its genuine ‘spiritual practices.’ And in fact its secret noblest feelings, thoughts, and deeds. For all seems to aspire towards luminosity and rarefication. “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being” (Carl Jung).

 


JASON BENTSMAN is a writer, philosopher, poet, and occasional humorist. He was born in Minsk, Belarus (formerly the USSR), grew up in the US, and has spent quite some time sojourning abroad, with Montreal as a periodic home-base. He recently completed The Orgastic Future, a novella about consumerism, plastic pollution, climate change, runaway ego, and other threats facing the planet. You can read (and listen to!) another excerpt here: (http://forwhatitsworth.be/prose/excerpt-every-bondperson/).

He is currently working on a long philosophical novel and two short novels, among other writings. He also takes fine art photographs. Some of his writing has appeared in Unvael Journal, The Real Us, Metamorphoses (Smith College), HirschworthFlaneur (NYC), FIRE (Oxford), and other publications; some of his photographic work in LensCulture, Feature Shoot,and the Ellohomepage. You can check out his Literary Website FWIW (www.ForWhatItsWorth.be), sign-up for his occasional Literary Email Digest (http://eepurl.com/cd81ZP), or purchase a fine art photography print (https://bit.ly/2MBazqd).

Copyright © 2018 by Jason Bentsman. All rights reserved.

‘Bedside Knife’ by Nils Blondon

Bedside Knife

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

After ten months of writing it was done. My first novella. I read through it twice, and thought it was pretty good. Strong enough to be published, but I could never be sure. What mattered most was my friend’s opinion. He was an author. There was an unspoken recognition between us. A gentle camaraderie fostered by a shared struggle: the artist’s impassioned toil.

He said that when I finished the first draft he would read it, and give me his thoughts. I told him that I wanted the truth: “Don’t spare my feelings,” I said. He promised that he wouldn’t. His opinion was the only one that mattered to me. I gave the draft a final read and emailed him a copy.

Ten days passed. I took a break from writing, and I even made the time to have dinner with a girl I had started seeing. I told her I had finished the first draft of my novella. She asked if she could read it.

“No,” I said. I was only letting one person read it, my novelist friend.

“Why not get a second opinion?” she asked. “What makes his thoughts the only ones that matter?”

“He understands,” I replied. “He knows what it takes to really make it, to get published.”

She shrugged. We ate our pasta in silence, dispirited and unsure of each other.

I got home that night and checked my email. No response from my friend yet. I opened up the draft on my computer, read the first few lines, and had to stop.  Reading my own words was like hearing the sound of my own voice. But what really mattered, all that really mattered, was what my friend would think of it. From his thoughts I would get an idea of how close I was to breaking through as a writer.

A few days later, I woke up at 6 am to give him a call. He didn’t answer. Everything in my room looked overexposed, a few measures too bright. I called in sick to work, and checked my email every fifteen minutes, hoping his notes on my draft would appear in my inbox. Any second now. Nothing came. But it will. He will get back to me. Soon.

I kept a knife on my bedside table. It was a gift from someone I hadn’t seen in years. I picked it up, and felt its weight in my hands. It had a real presence. I wiped the dust from the blade, and put it back down

What if the writing is terrible? Maybe that’s why he’s not getting back to me. He’s embarrassed. He’s hiding from me because of the manuscript. My pathetic manuscript.

That idea stalked me through the night. It was still in my head when I woke up the next morning. And then the phone rang. It was him.

“Hey man.” He sounded nonchalant. “How’s it going?”

“Great,” I said. “Just taking it easy, feels weird not having the novella to work on. It became a part of my routine, a real part of me.”  

“Oh yeah?” He told me to hold on for a second. I heard him chat and laugh with a female voice in the background. “Why don’t we meet today at the Coffee Hour? How’s four o’clock?”

“That works.” I hung up the phone. I tidied the trash and clothes from around my apartment, ran the shower until my bathroom was thick with steam and bathed for the first time since finishing my novella. The water washed over my soapy skin as I brushed my teeth –– all the tedium and irritations of daily hygiene.

 

The streetcar was crowded as I made my way to the Coffee Hour. I arrived at 3:30 pm to prepare for the bad news. I was ready to be told that my work was awful, that it needed to be rewritten. It was OK. That’s what the process was all about: building and destroying, killing and resurrecting.

He showed up twenty minutes late –– he had nothing to prove. He was an accomplished writer, after all. We sat down together and ordered black coffees. He started talking about a girl he met online, about her body and her face and the way she spoke. “She speaks like a baby, dude. She has a baby voice.”

I listened. I waited for a chance to ask him what he thought of my novella, but he kept talking about the girl. I felt something twist in my guts, a raw resentment. I watched his mouth move, anticipating the moment when he’d say: “I read your manuscript.” But it never came.

He finished his coffee and left. I stayed in the cafe alone. My phone buzzed in my pocket, and it was a text from him: “Sorry man,” it said. “I forgot. I wanted to tell you that I really hope things work out with you and that girl. I really do. Love you, bro.”

I sat thinking about all the things I could have asked him. I was angry at myself for not having the guts to bring up the novella. Couples in the café ate full bowls of fresh fruit and yogurt.  I watched feeling at odds with anything kind, anything neutral and easy.

I got home, and checked my email again. I was sure that he had sent me another apologetic message, this time about his failure to bring my novella up over coffee. This must be a trick of his –– an April fool’s joke delivered in the wrong month. But my inbox remained empty.

Another two days passed. He still hadn’t got back to me. I really needed some form of validation now, a bit of dopamine, a bit of serotonin for my brain. I called the girl.

“I’ll send you my novella if you still want to read it,” I told her. She told me to send it to her. She got back to me that evening.

“I read your novella. It was good!”

“Good?” I asked. “What do you mean by good?”

“I mean, it was pretty good. I mean, I think I liked it.”

Someone laughed outside my window. I heard a streetcar grind along the tracks.

“You ‘liked it’? That doesn’t tell me anything,” I replied. “That’s like something my mom would say. Be honest! Tell me what you actually think.”

“What?”

The laughter outside got louder. Shut up, I wanted to yell.

“Are you ok?” She asked. “Something has been really off with you lately. You’re acting kind of weird.”

“Weird? I’m not fucking weird. I’m pissed off. Tired of the bullshit. Just tell me what you think. I don’t have time to hear a coward’s critique.”

“God, what’s wrong with you? It’s good, OK? It’s not bad. I kind of liked it”

“Oh, so you kind of like it now? We’re getting closer to what you really think of my work. I know what you think, but you’re a coward just like him. You’re too scared to come out and say that you hate it. You think I’m pathetic, you think my writing is pathetic!”

She hung up, and then texted me: “Never call me again.”

The laughter outside was intolerable. I ran to the ledge, and looked down and out onto the street, but I couldn’t find its source.

I closed the windows, drew the blinds, ran the kitchen sink cold, and stuck my head under the tap to cool off a bit. Then I printed out a copy of my manuscript and read it in fragments, but never start to finish, scanning a paragraph here, a sentence there, the last page and then another page in the middle. My stomach hurt, so I skipped dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. I read my manuscript again, only this time I pulled my friend’s novel from the shelf and juxtaposed our pages in contrast, comparing our work line by line, word by word, and I felt sick again. “Fuck this, I shouted. “Fuck all of this!”

I grabbed the bedside knife, and stabbed the wall ten or twelve times, compelled by something ancient, a timeless blue anger. It felt good to stab the wall. It felt right.

I placed the knife in my pocket, blade out. I left my building, and walked towards my friend’s house. Only to talk to him, of course. Only to ask him, face -to- face, what he thought of my novella.

 


NILS BLONDON is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. His work explores his experiences with the human condition at its most raw, addiction, alcoholism, and loss.

Copyright © 2018 by Nils Blondon. All rights reserved.